How Germany's Free Democrats Failed To Make Parliament

Regardless of where anyone stands in the political spectrum of Germany, clearly the biggest shock of this week's federal election was the . Naturally, a political scientist would likely suggest that the proverbial writing of the FDP's demise has been on the wall for some time- referencing. Reference would be made not only to the polls leading up to the federal election, but the state election results in Bavaria (2013), Saarland (2012), and Schleswig-Holstein (2012). While there is truth in the numbers, percentages, in this case, only show levels of support. They do not indicate what was, or, in the case of the Free Democrats, was not driving support for the party. So, what happened in the last 4 years to drive so many people away from a party that has been a fixture in federal German politics for the past 60 years?

It is a sad, yet obvious modern political reality. The most important issues for any political party are avoiding scandal and keeping promises made to voters. For the Free Democrats, both have had a major impact on the party in recent years. The scandal occurred shortly after the 2009 election, when their "pro-business" attempts at lowering the sales tax for the hospitality industry turned out to be motivated by industry donations to the party, and the broken promises, due to an overestimation of governing clout, have been regularly occurring since the last federal election. While these occurrences may not have an effect on the party faithful, they did deter unaffiliated voters. FDP lost over 450,000 of them in 2013.

Secondly, living in a time of intense rhetoric and heightened political rivalry, being too close to one of the 2 major parties can be a double-edged sword, especially for a mainly centrist party like FDP. By aligning themselves so closely with the Christian Democrats over the last 4 years, the party was forced to accept the harsh reality that a large section of the party's supporters had been alienated. Center-left members of the party left to support the Social Democrats and allies. On the other hand, many center-right members of the FDP, seeing little difference between the FDP and CDU, supported the larger party. Combined, this stripped FDP of over 2.6 million votes (2.1+ million for CDU and 600,000+ for SPD and the Left Party).

Third, the party lost its mantle of euro-skepticism, thanks to the emergence of the new anti-Europe party, Alternative for Germany. Though euro-skepticism lock steps with the ideals of the Free Democrats, it was never the focal point as is for Alliance for Germany, which siphoned off those voters for whom this is an issue of primary importance. This support appears to be in excess of 400,000 voters.

The harsh pain is still very real for the Free Democrat faithful, especially considering that the support of any one of these demographics could easily have pushed it above the 5% threshold. It means less funding and having to operate in the opposition without being in Parliament. However, it does provide a lesson to other third parties vying for a role in government. The importance of good governing practices, party independence, and being true to one's platforms and voters cannot be overestimated. Hopefully, the Free Democrats (as well as other "third-way" parties) will learn from this and emerge stronger in the next elections, because nobody wants to be going home alone when everyone else is celebrating.

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